Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Antiwar Movement

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In 1964, Carl Oglesby, a young copywriter for a Michigan-based defense contractor, was asked by a local Democratic congressman to draft a campaign paper on the Vietnam War. Oglesby's report argued that the conflict was misplaced and unwinnable. He had little idea that its subsequent publication would put him on a fast track to becoming the president of the now-legendary protest movement Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In this book, Oglesby shares the triumphs and tribulations of an organization that ...

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Overview

In 1964, Carl Oglesby, a young copywriter for a Michigan-based defense contractor, was asked by a local Democratic congressman to draft a campaign paper on the Vietnam War. Oglesby's report argued that the conflict was misplaced and unwinnable. He had little idea that its subsequent publication would put him on a fast track to becoming the president of the now-legendary protest movement Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In this book, Oglesby shares the triumphs and tribulations of an organization that burgeoned across America, only to collapse in the face of surveillance by the U.S. government and infighting.

As an SDS leader, Oglesby spoke on the same platform as Coretta Scott King and Benjamin Spock at the storied 1965 antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C. He traveled to war-ravaged Vietnam and to the international war crimes tribunal in Scandinavia, where he met with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. He helped initiate the Venceremos Brigade, which dispatched thousands of American students to bring in the Cuban sugar harvest. He reluctantly participated in the protest outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention and was a witness for the defense at the trial of the Chicago Seven the following year. Eventually, after extensive battles with those in SDS who saw its future more as a vanguard guerrilla group than as an open mass movement, Oglesby was drummed out of the organization. Shortly after, it collapsed when key members of its leadership quit to set up the Weather Underground.

This beautifully written and elegiac memoir is rich in contemporary echoes as America once again must come to terms with an ill-conceived military adventure abroad. Carl Oglesbywarns of the destructive frustrations of a peace campaign unable to achieve its goals. But above all, he captures the joyful liberation of joining together to take a stand for what is right and just — the soaring and swooping of a protest movement in full flight, like ravens in a storm.

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Editorial Reviews

Elsa Dixler
In Ravens in the Storm, Oglesby not only tells his own amazing story, but also provides an interesting angle on the contested history of S.D.S.…Ravens in the Storm is most interesting as the story of a life transformed. The author insists that it is memoir, not history, and he is right.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Enjoying the security and comfort of his middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs of Ann Arbor, Mich., where he worked for a defense contractor, Oglesby was an unlikely candidate to move to the forefront of the countercultural antiwar movement. However, several momentous events, combined with his growing sense that the Vietnamese revolution had less to do with communism and more to do with national independence, led him to quit his job and follow his principles by becoming involved full-time in the radical organization Students for a Democratic Society. Oglesby traces his and the organization's activities from its attempts to educate the public on Vietnam at "teach-ins" through the more violent antiwar activities of its splinter groups. His insider's view introduces readers to the personalities and ideologies of some of the major players in SDS and the antiwar movement, and he uses recently released FBI, State Department and CIA files to show the magnitude of governmental infiltration of the organization. But what makes the book most compelling is Oglesby's in-depth knowledge of this tumultuous era and his astute observations about the influence of key events of the period-such as the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy as well as military operations like the Tet offensive-on SDS and its evolving political ideology. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Oglesby (New Left Reader), a freelance writer and former activist, provides an engrossing memoir of his involvement in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The largest and most famous (and infamous) student activist organization of the 1960s, SDS attracted Oglesby primarily because he saw it as a means of opposing the Vietnam War. Somewhat older than most activists of the time, in 1965 he left his job at the Bendix Corporation (where he had a top-secret classification) and spent the next five years as a key member of the SDS leadership, serving as president in 1965-66 and as a leading advocate of nonviolent approaches to opposing the war. Oglesby writes of reaching out to liberal organizations and politicians in the hope of establishing a broad coalition for change and reveals fascinating details of the group's inner workings. Scorned by radical revolutionaries in the group (e.g., Bernadine Dorhn), he was excommunicated from it as the Sixties ended and his memoir comes to a close. Fine prose and revealing details highly recommend this for academic and most public libraries.
—Anthony Edmonds

School Library Journal

Enjoying the security and comfort of his middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs of Ann Arbor, Mich., where he worked for a defense contractor, Oglesby was an unlikely candidate to move to the forefront of the countercultural antiwar movement. However, several momentous events, combined with his growing sense that the Vietnamese revolution had less to do with communism and more to do with national independence, led him to quit his job and follow his principles by becoming involved full-time in the radical organization Students for a Democratic Society. Oglesby traces his and the organization's activities from its attempts to educate the public on Vietnam at "teach-ins" through the more violent antiwar activities of its splinter groups. His insider's view introduces readers to the personalities and ideologies of some of the major players in SDS and the antiwar movement, and he uses recently released FBI, State Department and CIA files to show the magnitude of governmental infiltration of the organization. But what makes the book most compelling is Oglesby's in-depth knowledge of this tumultuous era and his astute observations about the influence of key events of the period-such as the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy as well as military operations like the Tet offensive-on SDS and its evolving political ideology. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Maybe you do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows-in, say, the middle of a cyclone. Enter Oglesby (Who Killed JFK?, 1991, etc.), revolutionary, enemy of the people and evenhanded chronicler of days past. When the '60s writ large began around 1964, Oglesby was working as a technical writer for a defense contractor, occasionally bemused by his bosses' attitudes-they drank a congratulatory toast when JFK gave way to LBJ, sure that war profits were soon to increase-but mostly content to keep his head down. The defense work wasn't far-fetched: Oglesby points out early on that the anti-war movement wasn't pacifist or anti-war as such, just anti-Vietnam, which to everyone but just those profiteers looked like a bad idea from the beginning. Contentment gave way to gnawing doubts, and Oglesby, by now involved in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), found himself in South Vietnam-not bearing arms, but gathering information for the growing anti-war movement, learning from the opposition there, anticommunist and anti-American at once, that Vietnam needed two things: to be free and to be rich. Though Oglesby rose to prominence in the SDS and the anti-war movement, as he charts here, he did not adapt, in the end, to the rise of the New Left and its doctrinaire ways. Toward the end of the book, we find him facing a self-styled people's tribunal, courtesy of the Weather Underground, for the crime of having "sat on a panel with the fascist pig Herman Kahn." Oglesby's elegy for the sensible opposition, replaced by a different version of SDS and its antiwar kin in which just about every second person was an undercover cop or informant, makes useful reading for activists today. A worthycomplement to Kirkpatrick Sale's SDS, Daniel Ellsberg's Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, David Maraniss's They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967 and other tales of the movement.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416547365
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 2/11/2008
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 1.10 (h) x 9.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl Oglesby was president of Students for a Democratic Society between 1965 and 1966. His previous books include Containment and Change and The JFK Assassination. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2008

    A reviewer

    ¿Ravens in the Storm¿ is at once an elegiac memoir, a chronicle of the inside workings of the antiwar movement and an apologia. There is a wistfulness about it, a sense of opportunities squandered and chances missed, but also a triumphant air that Carl Oglesby and his cohorts in the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS movement, had actually, in the final analysis, accomplished something not achieved before or since. They made a difference at a critical time in our nation¿s history that has eerily familiar parallels to today, as we live through another illegal, ill-advised and unwinnable war. The similarities to the 1960s Vietnam War era and the current fiasco in Iraq are an undercurrent in ¿Ravens.¿ Oglesby never mentions our current conflict, leaving it to the reader to draw the unmistakable conclusions: a nation of sleepwalkers trusting in a corrupt government, a president with an unclear mission and a blank check, and a compliant Congress that failed to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to reign in an out-of-control administration. Oglesby¿s 1960s featured a government that lied to and spied on its citizens, a corrupt, profit-driven military-industrial complex a country bent on nation-building in a faraway place of which we had and have little cultural or historical understanding, and little sympathy for the millions of lives destroyed in a horrific and pointless war. Sound familiar? The difference is for Vietnam they had Carl Oglesby and the SDS, and the best we could manage for Iraq was Cindy Sheehan. The book traces Oglesby¿s unlikely and meteoric rise from middle-class homeowner with a wife and two kids living in the suburbs working within the military-industrial complex at Bendix Corp. ¿ with top-secret security clearance ¿ to the world stage as president of the radical student group SDS. Like Woody Allen¿s Zelig, Oglesby seems to have been at every major event of his time and met most of the movers and shakers of his day. ¿Ravens¿ is well-written, mainly because Oglesby was a trained writer and editor at Bendix who also is a playwright, poet, songwriter and pretty good raconteur. He¿s got five other books to his credit, including two on the JFK assassination. Here¿s a sample from the book, and you tell me whether it sounds like a description of where we are today: Our national debt was up, our taxes were up, our inner cities were up in flames, our war strategists were up a tree, our kids were up to their necks in killing and getting killed in a lost cause, our North Atlantic allies were almost up in arms against us. The war had to come to an end. Johnson had to go. Replace ¿Johnson¿ with ¿Bush¿ and you¿re here now, in 2008, in Iraq, not in 1968, in Vietnam. It is the parallels with today that give ¿Ravens¿ its immediacy, its importance as a book that should be read by anyone who wants to understand how America could get itself into the kind of intractable predicament we currently are in. But it is Oglesby¿s unique place in modern history that lends the book a certain gravitas. As president of SDS Oglesby turned the organization ¿ which at its height counted 317 chapters and 100,000 members ¿ toward protesting the Vietnam War and away from its grass-roots community organizing mission. He participated in a tribunal organized by philosopher Bertrand Russell and existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, he was at the 1968 riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, he was asked by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver to be Cleaver¿s vice-presidential running mate in the 1968 elections, he went to Cuba and organized a program wherein Americans went to the island nation ¿ illegally ¿ to help with the sugar harvest. But his turning of SDS into a radical antiwar organization also led to the government¿s illegal and violent crackdown on the entire antiwar movement, to the formation of the radical Weatherman movement and, ultimately, to the downfall of SDS at the hands of the government an

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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